Are you fighting the wrong battles with your staff?

I recently met with the senior management team (SMT) of a medium size national Australian business. We discussed many HR related topics with a theme of “how can they do it differently”. It was a light-hearted but productive discussion with great ideas flowing for how they could improve their overall performance and engagement. Until it went flat! Well for me anyway!

It went flat because the next question they asked was, “how do we wean our new graduates off their phones?”

I appreciate that this is a fair question and one that many companies struggle with. Many people are attached to their phone 24/7, using it for all matters of personal, business and social activity. When our employees come to work, we want them to get the job done and not be distracted by non-work related activities, particularly social media. I get it!

However, my response was, “why do you need to wean your new graduates off their phones?” From the look on everyone’s face I am sure their view of my intelligence level dropped significantly. It is obvious, isn’t it? They went on to explain to me that they have had issues in the past where deliveries have not been delivered on time to customers because people have been on Facebook.

They also had similar issues in the account department with accounts not being paid on time due to an employee being distracted with personal text messages.

This SMT was aware that for the millennial generation—who have grown up with their phones attached to them—it was going to be hard for them to not have their phone during office hours. They wanted to know the best way to help them adapt to this change. Quite thoughtful really!

However, I still went back to my original question of why do we have to take their phone away? Instead of focusing on what they can’t do, how about we focus, very clearly, on what they must do?

One of the biggest issues I see with poor staff performance is not so much that the employee is a poor performer but that they have never been told exactly what they need to achieve. For example, all accounts must be paid on Tuesday and Thursday by 3pm. Every morning delivery to client ABC must arrive by 10am that day.

We need to be clear on our expectations and communicate them accordingly. It sounds simple but it is quite rare.

We know our workplaces and our workforces are changing, so that also tells us we must change. Rather than focusing on the rules or what employees can’t do, why not focus on setting very clear expectations of what they must do?

If they are meeting those expectations and doing everything you need them to do, does it really matter if they are on Facebook and sending a few text messages? Why fight a battle that ultimately doesn’t affect the results of your business?

Change your focus and the performance and engagement of your people will also change!

Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder of national HR Consulting firm wattsnext. Sue-Ellen and her team of professionals are enablers of business growth through relevant HR for the modern world. 


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